February 2008

What to make of Porcello

PorcelloDon’t go overboard on a spring training debut, but he did look good. Good velocity on his fastball for this point in camp, lots of movement. More than anything, though, was his poise. As Leyland keeps saying, he steps out on the mound and just looks different, a little like Verlander did.

I fully expect the Tigers to take their time with him, but in terms of tools, he has the stuff to make folks look forward to each step he takes up the ladder.

Verlander officially tabbed for Opening Day

VerlanderIf there was any doubt left over whether Justin Verlander would start on opening day, that was erased Friday. Leyland confirmed it’s official, then downplayed any significance to it.

"It’s more of a happening than a game," Leyland said. "You’ve got all the politicians out, but I don’t get into that, really. I’m preparing for the game."

On the one hand, Leyland said it was clear that Verlander deserved the honor. On the other hand, he went out of his way to point out that an opening-day assignment doesn’t elevate one pitcher over anyone else.

"We feel like we have five solid starters when they’re healthy. They all can’t pitch on opening day."

Well, technically, they could. But then you’d have to find a sixth starter to pitch the second game of the season.

Other than that, Leyland said he’s "pretty optimistic" about Fernando Rodney’s recovery and "very optimistic" about Joel Zumaya’s recovery. On Zumaya and his return, that means Leyland thinks he could be back sooner than people expect. Rodney said this morning he was feeling good, but obviously he isn’t throwing at this point.

For a spring training game, today is a pretty good pitching matchup. Verlander starts opposite Roy Hallday, then Nate Robertson follows and Rick Porcello will make his spring training debut.

To beat you to the punchline

Yes, I know the story of Bonderman working on a changeup is repetitive. I’m the one who wrote those stories every spring, remember? That’s partly why I made a note out of it today instead of a story (well, having bigger news items today helped, too). Still, I think it’s important to note, partly since he felt like he had some good offspeed pitches today and has decided not to throw sliders in his early outings this spring. If he had scrapped the idea of a changeup altogether, that would’ve been news, too.

For those who read the minor-league report today, keep an eye on Preston Larrison. He probably won’t make the bullpen out of spring training since he’s a non-roster guy at this point, but he could well play a role in the Tigers bullpen before the season is done. The Tigers don’t have a lot of guys who would specialize in entering games with guys on base, but he’s one who can because of the way he pitches for ground balls. He’s been through a lot over the years, so you’d like to see him eventually get a chance.

I’m off on Thursday (but I have nothing to do with the Sheffield-Boras depositions, I swear), so you’ll have to talk amongst yourselves. Jim Molony will be handling the stories on the site.

A few updates

Joel Zumaya was cleared to begin playing catch yesterday, which is ahead of schedule. He made about 45 throws from 60 feet away without pain. He felt some stiffness, but that was to be expected for his first throwing session. He actually felt better than expected, he said, and he was throwing hard enough that pitching coach Chuck Hernandez had to take the ball from him. Still, he said, he has a lot of strengthening work to do in his arm. He’ll continue playing catch every other day for the foreseeable future.

Fernando Rodney had an MRI exam yesterday that showed no structural damage. At this point, his recurring shoulder soreness is being classified as inflammation. He’s on a medication program for the next few days and won’t throw again until next week. This is now at the point where Leyland is getting concerned. Where the Tigers had been looking for one reliever out of a pool of arms, they might now start looking for two just in case.

Yes, the lineup in today’s spring opener is pretty much the lineup you can expect to see on opening day if you replace Timo Perez with Gary Sheffield in the third spot.

Nate Robertson is away today with his wife Kristin for the birth of their first child.

Spring training opener, regular season weather

I’m not going to complain about the weather conditions when people are freezing in Detroit. But for informational purposes, this is pretty chilly for spring training: 48 degrees and windy at this point, on the way to a high in the upper 50s. Of course, if it’s this warm on March 31 at Comerica Park, I don’t think many people will complain.

Here’s the lineup for today:

  1. Granderson, CF
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Timo Perez, DH
  4. Ordonez, RF
  5. Cabrera, 3B
  6. Guillen, 1B
  7. Renteria, SS
  8. Rodriguez, C
  9. Jones, LF

Cabrera homers in first at-bat

The exhibition against Florida Southern is still going on, but the highlights mostly took place in the first inning. None were bigger than Miguel Cabrera’s home run.

Granted, it was against a college team, and the wind blowing out, but the ball was crushed. It’s an estimated 420-foot shot to straightaway center, and the ball hit about three-quarters of the way up the backdrop behind the fence. The backdrop rises about 30 feet above the top of the fence. Granderson and some teammates were guessing it traveled 470 feet.

"The wind got it," Cabrera said, half-jokingly.

Projecting the rotation

Here’s the spring training rotation as Leyland listed it Sunday:

  • Wednesday: Bonderman
  • Thursday: Robertson
  • Friday: Verlander
  • Saturday: Willis
  • Sunday: Rogers

Project the rotation out every five days, granting a day off for the Tigers’ one off-day this spring on March 19, and Verlander would be on schedule to start on opening day. That’s not really a surprise, since Leyland said a week and a half ago that he expected Verlander would start on opening day.

How the rest of the rotation unfolds from there doesn’t seem to get any clearer from this week’s order. Leyland indicated earlier that he’d probably put Rogers in between the two right-handers, which he is here, but so is Willis. However, the Tigers have an off day after opening day, so Rogers would still be on track to start the second game of the regular season on regular rest, followed by Bonderman and Robertson.

Now allow me to cover my head before the questions about why Willis would be fourth or fifth in the rotation start coming. Just kidding.

Other items of interest today:

  • Lots of impressive pitching performances Sunday in live BP, but Willis, Denny Bautista and Matt Mantei seemed to stand out. Mantei seems to be way ahead of schedule for somebody who had the better part of two years off from baseball. Again, it’s a matter of staying healthy with him. The Tigers told Mantei when he signed that there was a good chance he’d start the season in the minors to show he’s healthy. He can’t contractually ask for his release if he gets sent to the minors at the end of camp, but if he outpitches nearly everyone else in camp, he could force the team’s hand with pure talent.
  • Bobby Seay came to work this morning wearing a t-shirt with a message: "Only God saves more than Todd Jones." He said the shirts were around last year, at least among some fans, but I hadn’t seen them.
  • If you’re coming out to Tigertown on Monday, don’t expect a whole lot of activity. The Tigers have meetings in the morning and a charity golf outing in the afternoon. In between, they’ll do some light BP and call it a day.

Pudge will hit 8th

Jim Leyland made that statement in passing this morning when talking about Rodriguez and what kind of presence he is on the team. Leyland said he came to Pudge early in camp to talk to him about hitting 8th or 9th, and that Pudge is ready to do whatever is best. "That’s why I have the utmost respect for him," Leyland said.

It’s not exactly breaking news, given the hitters in this lineup. The only surprise actually might be that he isn’t batting ninth. Not sure who will do that, but keep in mind, Leyland has talked before about sometimes viewing the ninth spot as a second leadoff spot. That could be especially true if you view Curtis Granderson as a run producer at the top spot when the lineup turns over.

We also have pitching assignments for the upcoming games. Todd Jones will start Tuesday’s exhibition game against Florida Southern, followed by Francis Beltran, Chris Lambert, Jeff Gerbe, Freddy Dolsi, Virgil Vasquez and Jordan Tata. From there, Jeremy Bonderman will pitch the official spring opener against the Mets Wednesday. Nate Robertson will face the Blue Jays on Thursday, with Justin Verlander pitching the other end of that home-and-home series in Dunedin. Dontrelle Willis will start against the Indians on Saturday in Lakeland, then Kenny Rogers will face the Tribe Sunday in Winter Haven.

Tigers survive live BP

Pretty quiet session today before the rains came. The only bit of excitement came from Todd Jones lost a pitch high and had Gary Sheffield diving to the ground to duck. No harm done.

"I always have a hard time pitching to my teammates," Jones said.

The sessions are usually set up to let veteran pitchers throw to veteran hitters.

Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson were the starters throwing today. Both looked good. Virgil Vasquez continued to make a good impression, spotting his pitches low in the zone. Porcello and Bautista will pitch tomorrow, as will Dontrelle Willis and Matt Mantei.

Raburn to catch a little

Some morning tidbits:

  • Jim Leyland said this morning he plans to play Ryan Raburn all over this spring, including a few games at catcher. Ryan played it a few games in high school and college, but not much. He didn’t work with the catchers in camp last week, but he was behind the plate earlier this month to catch side sessions for some of the pitchers who reported early, including Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman and Preston Larrison. "Whatever keeps me around," Raburn said with a smile.
  • Again, it’s hard to gather what to take out of live BP this weekend, but one curious thing to watch will be how hitters react to Rick Porcello out on the mound. He has looked good so far in camp and has carried himself well.
  • Another interesting pitcher to watch could be Denny Bautista, who credits his work in the Caribbean Series in part for his start in camp. Bautista had never pitched in the series before, but by doing it this year, he was able to report to spring training less than a week later in game shape. He thinks more consistent command of his fastball has been a difference for him so far.
  • Leyland on Ryan Raburn: "He’s as good of an outfielder as we have in the organization, maybe the best." If he can make more consistent contact at the plate and cut down on strikeouts, Leyland thinks he has a chance to be a regular player in the big leagues someday.
  • In regards to the question about why players from overseas don’t take care of visas sooner, I’m not sure that’s the issue here with Cruceta. If you look at the players still waiting for theirs, a lot of them have legal issues to deal with. Tampa Bay’s Juan Salas, like Cruceta, served a 50-game suspension for steroids last season and is now facing delays, too. Francisco Liriano had to deal with a DUI citation from a couple years ago when he was ready to head over to the states.
  • Finally, proving players do read the papers, someone played a practical joke on Zach Miner this morning and taped a photo of Mariano Rivera to his locker. "To Zach: Good luck in your career! I really admire you," the message read, referring to an article a couple days ago about Miner maybe becoming a closer someday. He wasn’t the only victim of a joke, though. Todd Jones had a red tag on his locker this morning. It’s that time in camp for hijinks.